Funny old thing fertility. We spend the first part of our adult life trying to quell it; trying hard to keep those hormones and eggs and little tadpole fellas at bay until we’re ready… ready financially, ready emotionally, ready in terms of having space and having done all the things we want to do BK (before kids!) And then the time comes… the conversation is had and you decide now is the time. The stage is set for your pairing to become a trio and the excitement builds. Only fate doesn’t always agree with your decision or your timing and instead of all the things falling in to place that you anticipated, you find yourself on an entirely different road which is, for the most part, fairly shit!
I always had a funny feeling that we would struggle to conceive- I don’t know why… there was no obvious signs of a problem, no illness or conditions that would hamper our progress on the baby front but something always niggled me that it might not be straight forward. We had been married for almost a year when we made the decision that the time was right to start a family. I was 27, Jon 29, we had our house and the space, we’d enjoyed nice holidays together and our careers were settled and we were secure in terms of income and finances. My sister had just had our nephew, we loved spending time with him and it made us both realise that we were ready to start the next chapter in our lives.
We initially decided we weren’t going to ‘try’ for a baby as such- we’d had a few friends who had been ‘trying’ for a while and conversations about mapping temperatures and tracking ovulation and constantly weeing on sticks did not sound fun! It all sounded so much hassle and stress and we were both keen to avoid this. Our plan was to not have a plan, not really think about it and just see what happened. We also did not share this decision with anyone else; call me a prude but I used to get a bit weirded out if people shared the news that they were ‘trying’… I’m not sure what the correct response is to your friends basically declaring they are having regular unprotected sex!
Whilst our intentions were sound, the reality of this plan was fundamentally flawed! It’s impossible to make one of the biggest decisions in your life and then expect to be all laid back and casual about the outcome. With the best will in the world we tried not to think about it but all of a sudden the arrival of ‘the monthlies’ was more than just an annoyance or a sign that Jon might want to start every sentence with the phrase ‘I’m sorry- here’s some chocolate’; it now signified a lack of success in the early days and heart breaking failure after a while.
I started to get twitchy much earlier than Jon did. By the 4 or 5 month mark I was starting to think something might be amiss. By 9 or ten months I was more convinced… I’d done the thing you should never do with anything medical and googled it… the overwhelming majority of couples would conceive within 6 months of trying, most of the remaining ones would get caught within a year. My spidy sense was starting to tingle and I just felt that something wasn’t right. Just before the year mark we went to the GP and saw a really understanding doctor who started the process of further tests and investigations. First step in the process was blood tests for me to check hormone levels at various points in my cycle and then more invasive tests would follow.
We went through the next stage of tests over the next couple of months. As in all aspects of pregnancy and fertility, the female of the species gets the raw end of the dealwhen it comes to tests! Internal scans, blood tests so often I felt like a pin cushion and a particularly nasty ‘flushing of tubes with dye’ to make sure there were no blockages, versus going into a room with an 8 years out of date copy of ‘Busty Babez’ and providing a ‘specimen’! All came back fine and the consultant we were seeing said we were one of the most fertile infertile couples he’d seen and therefore diagnosed ‘unexplained infertility’. My reaction to this was completely different to Jon; he was really pleased that there was no problems whereas I was really disappointed! Had there been a problem, we could have been proactive and hopefully had the issue ‘fixed’. ‘Unexplained Infertility’ just felt like more time to be wasted and more uncertainty. If there was nothing to be ‘fixed’ what was to say it would ever happen and we wouldn’t be in this perpetual limbo forever more? Jon on the other hand was more of the ‘if there’s nothing wrong it could happen tomorrow’ school of thought which probably accurately summed up our different mind sets at that time (plus the consultant had told him with a sperm count of 90 million, he was 4 and a half times the average man which I think had put him on a super proud high- he considered putting it on his business cards for a while!)
The thing I struggled with most throughout the whole process was the lack of control or ability to influence outcomes. I’m a proactive person- a fixer! I’m used to identifying a problem, working hard to find a solution and getting on with it. The thing is in this situation, you have to hand control over to fate and it turns out, I’m not very good at not being in control of my own destiny!
The main problem with unsuccessfully trying for a baby is that it completely takes over your life. You begin to live your life based around ‘what ifs’. You daren’t book a holiday or say yes to that hen do because you ‘might be pregnant’. You don’t look for a new job or a change at work because you ‘might be pregnant’. You are constantly projecting forward 9 months to what could be with every invite that comes through the door and every plan that you make.
And then life turns into a series of 28 day blocks. The arrival of your period heralds another unsuccessful month. Coupled with a cracking surge of hormones, I would usually spend 2-3 days sulking around mourning what could have been. Again we differed in our approach here; Jon would try to be all peppy and cheerleadery about it being the start of a new cycle and try to be positive, I would see it as the end of another failure and just want to stay in bed and cry. He told me once he was worried that one month I just wouldn’t get back up… We came to an agreement that he was allowed to get worried if it lasted longer than 3 days but that I was allowed to have a couple of days of being sad and sulking at the unfairness of it all while eating my own body weight in chocolate digestives! Then hope would start to build… Maybe this was the month. Maybe this would be the time where we ‘got caught’ and in 9 months we’d look back at this time nostalgically while holding our baby. The problem was that the longer it went on, the harder it was to summon up the required levels of hope. The next stage was trying to work out exactly when I was ovulating and trying to do what needed to be done at the exact right moment (gone were the days of romance and spontaneity!) and then an agonising 2 week wait would begin where all I could think about was whether we’d managed it this time. Every twinge, ache and pain was analysed but the problem is that a lot of the signs of early pregnancy mimic signs of the arrival of your period; basically natures shitty trick on couples trying and failing to conceive! Was I bloated because I was pregnant or because I was about to ‘come on?’ Were my boobs sore because I was pregnant or because I kept poking them to see if they were sore?? Natures other really kind present was giving me slightly irregular cycles so I would start to build my hopes up that I was a couple of days late and then Boom! Along it would come and whack you in the face like a tonne of bricks! Hormones play a huge part in the mood swings and emotional roller coaster you find yourself on but the whole experience was, at times, completely soul destroying.
After about 18 months I was put on a drug called Chlomid to boost my fertility- it basically regulates your cycle and causes you to produce more eggs in each cycle which increases your chances by a numbers game (it also massively increases your risk of multiples which at the time we kept telling ourselves we were totally fine with but now look back on with a ‘thank chuff for that!’ mentality!) The other side effect of the drugs is that it turned me into a certifiable psychotic nutjob!!! I never particularly suffered with hormones or PMT- I remember saying this once and Jon rolling his eyes as if to say ‘yeah right!’ I did four months of the possible six on Chlomid and I remember Jon acquiescing that actually I was normally pretty stable! The drugs made me weepy and unstable and heightened all the emotions I was already feeling. Jon had to ban all programs on TV with any kind of emotion inducing content after he came home from work to find me sat on the sofa looking like I’d been punched in both eyes after watching ‘supervet’ in the morning and sobbing for the remainder of the day! That was my lowest day- I cried continuously for 12 and a half hours because a dog had its leg amputated and had to have wheels fitted! Can you imagine the state I’d have been in if I’d watched a DIY SOS?? In hind sight I can look back on this time and see how ridiculous and irrational my behaviour was but at the time I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and felt like I was drowning in my own expectations and failed dreams.
I quit after four months- I was having too good a reaction to the drugs and producing a ridiculous number of eggs each cycle. Plus I was at risk of becoming seriously dehydrated due to all the sobbing!
Gradually as time went on, more people found out about the difficulties we were having- I looked like shit half the time- I’m not one of these genetically lucky people who can sob all night and look dewy eyed the next day- I’m more of the ‘puffy eyed, swollen panda bear’ variety! Also people would, with the best of intentions, ask about our plans to start a family. I was guilty of that in the past- well-meaning questions about when you might be thinking of having a baby- I don’t do it any more though- I know that there may well be a story behind that question that might be far too painful to answer in a platitude or small talk. Lots of people were understanding and we had lots of family and friends that we knew we could go to for a vent or to talk or cry when we needed it. Others would offer less helpful advice… if only you stopped thinking about it all it would probably happen… this stress can’t be helping- you need to chill out… as soon as you stop ‘trying’ it will happen. Telling someone to stop thinking about infertility when you are well down the pathway is like telling someone with a broken leg that if they only stopped thinking about it, it probably wouldn’t sting so much! If you have friends or family going through this, there is sadly sod all you can do to make them feel better- the fix to this problem is a baby and short of sneaking in somewhere and stealing one for them (which I think is still pretty much frowned upon) then there is little you can do. Being understanding when they are rubbish at keeping in touch, seem abnormally off or moody or fly off the handle for no obvious reason is one thing that helps. I was also really grateful to friends who showed sensitivity to our circumstances when they shared their own baby news- I never begrudged or resented a single friend who fell pregnant while we were trying but I did appreciate getting the news by text rather than face to face so I had chance to manage my own emotions before having to react to them in person! And if all else fails, if they look like shit and seem PMT ish- give them wine and chocolate with no questions asked!
So, back to the story… We were now 2 years plus into this journey and our consultant suggested it was now time to move our treatment to the next stage with a referral to the Assisted Conception Unit. Our next stage of the journey of infertility was about to start…
(PS. I know that this is the worse cliff hanger ever- the name of the blog and previous posts obviously give away the happy ending but this one was a tough one to relive and write so I thought I’d make it a two parter and psych myself up for round two later!)